Azar Nafisi speaks to a crowd of 1,400 at the Knapp Center.
Bestselling author Azar Nafisi championed the role of curiosity and imagination in informing and uniting diverse groups of people as she presented the 25th Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture at Drake University on Oct. 27.
The Iranian-born author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books," told a crowd of about 1,400 that a passion for books and knowledge is required to overcome an environment in the United States, where "ignorance has become a badge of honor."
"In a democracy, the tradition is to have a constant and continual conversation with those who are not like you," Nafisi said. "And yet we have become so used to this smugness, this complacency, of only listening to those who will reaffirm us. . . . Ignorance has become a sort of badge of honor."
The hour-long speech, which prompted applause on several occasions and drew a standing ovation, marked the 15th anniversary of the Bucksbaum Lecture series and the 25th Bucksbaum Lecture.
Drake President David Maxwell opened the evening by thanking the Bucksbaum family for endowing the lecture series. "This was all made possible by Melva and the late Martin Bucksbaum," he said, noting that Martin was one of Iowa's most successful business leaders and a longtime member of Drake's governing board.
Melva Bucksbaum holds flowers given to her by Student Body President Samantha Haas.
Series to be enhanced by $2.5 million gift
President Maxwell then announced that Melva and Mary Bucksbaum have
committed a $2.5 million gift as part of the University's
distinctlyDrake fundraising campaign.
"The gift," Maxwell said, "will be used to expand the impact of the
Bucksbaum Distinguished Lectureship by supporting the appointment of
Bucksbaum Family Distinguished Visiting Scholars, bringing experts in a
variety of fields to the campus for a semester at a time to engage us
all in critical discussions that our Bucksbaum lecturers have typified
over the years."
Author shares her concerns about American politics
Nafisi, an outspoken author who was expelled from the faculty of the
University of Tehran in 1991 for refusing to wear the mandatory veil,
has become a U.S. citizen and teaches at Johns Hopkins University. She
shared her observations about U.S. politics the week before the Nov. 2
Recent political debates, Nafisi said, primarily show candidates who
seem to be talking only at one another, rather than with one another.
Nafisi said that unwillingness to learn about opposing perspectives,
and to acknowledge the commonalities between human beings, undermines
She referenced dozens of authors during her lecture, emphasizing the
value of literature in expressing values and life experiences in a
universal way. She told of her love of books and libraries and described
reading as an act that transforms far-away people into "intimate
Azar Nafisi speaks with students after her Q&A session.
Students quiz author about Iran, women's rights
On the morning before the lecture, Nafisi fielded questions from
about 50 students in Cowles Library. Prominent topics included women's
rights, the totalitarian regime in Iran and the connecting power of the
"It was an absolutely amazing opportunity," said Sean Conard, a
sophomore international relations major from Green Bay, Wis. "She
cleared up a lot of misconceptions about Iran and women in Iran."